New England Patriots roster projection 3.0: Josh Gordon’s return creates ripple effect across roster

Fibo Quantum

In a Flash, the Patriots’ Week 1 roster picture has changed again.

Josh Gordon’s reinstatement Friday added another lock to one of New England’s more fluid position groups, a ripple that extends beyond the team’s wide receivers room. He instantly becomes the Pats’ second-best weapon, which in our latest projection kicks one of their most reliable summer receivers to PUP and a tight end to the curb. Elsewhere, New England’s shift to a 3-4 base defense forces out a veteran defensive end with starting experience.

QUARTERBACK (3)

  • Tom Brady
  • Brian Hoyer
  • Jarrett Stidham

Breakdown: Starter? Check. Veteran backup? Check. Promising rookie with tools and time to develop? Check.

Any questions?

RUNNING BACK (6)

  • Sony Michel
  • James White
  • Rex Burkhead
  • Brandon Bolden
  • Damien Harris
  • James Develin

Breakdown: It says something about your backfield when the runner with the most balance in his game as a rusher and receiver — Rex Burkhead — is the only one within reach of the bubble. The others are locks: Michel, White and Develin for obvious reasons, Bolden as a core special teamer who received $2 million guaranteed and Harris as a third-round pick.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

  • Julian Edelman
  • Josh Gordon
  • N’Keal Harry
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • Jakobi Meyers

PUP: Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris

Breakdown: If Harris is out “a while” as reported, it makes sufficient sense to stash him on PUP. Gordon’s return has effectively pitted him against Dorsett, with Edelman, Harry and preseason darling Meyers residing in lock territory. Gordon, however, can’t be penciled in for 16 games, so Harris and Thomas wait in the wings as midseason insurance against another possible exit and/or injury.

TIGHT END (1)

Suspended: Ben Watson (4 games)

Breakdown: Sounds crazy, right? Let’s walk through this.

None of the Patriots’ tight ends remotely impressed through two preseason games and three weeks of training camp. The projected Week 1 starter, LaCosse, has been MIA for long stretches and is now hurt. The best of the bunch, Watson, will be suspended for the first four games.

If New England wants to play with two tight ends in September, it can shift Develin from his traditional fullback spot to a wing position next to the line, a place he aligned for dozens of snaps last season. He also meets and practices with the tight ends during the week. The only loss is the ability to play 22 personnel, which by definition means keeping Gordon or Edelman off the field.

In short-yardage situations where 22 may appear favorable, the Patriots can also deploy a sixth offensive linemen. Until Saturday night’s showcase of second and third-stringers, they had been dreadful this summer running in short-yardage with heavy personnel. New England can still run the ball effectively near the goal line by lightening the box through 10 or 11 personnel groupings that spread the field and allow Michel, White and Co. to find space.

Lastly, Gordon’s addition has made it more difficult than ever to argue any of New England’s backup tight ends provide a better option than its fifth-best receiver or running back. Only the staff’s reluctance to roster zero above-average blocking tight ends — like Ryan Izzo — should keep a second on the roster to start Week 1. And even then, they may be able to stash Izzo on the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

  • OT Isaiah Wynn
  • OG Joe Thuney
  • C David Andrews
  • OG Shaq Mason
  • OT Marcus Cannon
  • OT Dan Skipper
  • OG/C Ted Karras
  • OG/C Hjalte Froholdt

PUP: OT Yodny Cajuste

Breakdown: With Wynn back at full health and nearing full participation in practice and preseason games, the Patriots’ starting offensive line is set. Barring a sudden surge by veteran backup James Ferentz, Karras and Froholdt should back up the interior spots. That leaves the embattled Skipper as New England’s new swing tackle.

EDGE (5)

  • Michael Bennett
  • John Simon
  • Chase Winovich
  • Derek Rivers
  • Shilique Calhoun

Breakdown: Rivers’ health is a major unknown after he was helped off the field in the first quarter of Saturday’s win and did not return. Assuming he sticks, Bennett, Simon and Winovich will join him. Calhoun sneaks on as a situational rusher whose first-team reps in practice have become too many to ignore.

INTERIOR D-LINE (5)

  • Lawrence Guy
  • Danny Shelton
  • Adam Butler
  • Mike Pennel
  • Byron Cowart

Breakdown: Welcome, Byron Cowart!

The fifth-round rookie out of Maryland cracks his first roster projection of the summer two days after briefly capturing the attention of NFL preseason Twitter with his destruction of big-ticket Titans guard Rodger Saffold. At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Cowart fits the physical prototype for down linemen in New England’s revised scheme that will demand more two-gapping. His addition leads to the subtraction of Deatrich Wise Jr., whose inconsistency and play deep into preseason games has been noticeable this summer. At 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, he feels like a misfit both at defensive end and on the edge.

LINEBACKER (6)

  • Dont’a Hightower
  • Kyle Van Noy
  • Jamie Collins
  • Elandon Roberts
  • Ja’Whaun Bentley
  • Brandon King

Breakdown: Hightower, Van Noy, Collins and Roberts all sat Saturday, a nod to their job security. Bentley played a handful of defensive series. King received a contract extension in the offseason and figures to again be a staple of New England’s special teams.

CORNERBACK (6)

  • Stephon Gilmore
  • Jason McCourty
  • J.C. Jackson
  • Jonathan Jones
  • Joejuan Williams
  • Keion Crossen

Breakdown: No changes here. The veterans are staying put to lead perhaps the deepest cornerback group in the NFL. Williams sticks as a second-round pick, and Crossen, like King, is a starting fixture on all of the Patriots’ starting kick and punt teams.

SAFETY (4)

  • Devin McCourty
  • Patrick Chung
  • Duron Harmon
  • Terrence Brooks

Breakdown: Obi Melifonwu has failed to put enough pressure on Harmon or Brooks to supplant either one as a backup safety. Brooks projected initially as a core special teamer (and should still see hundreds of snaps on those units) but lately has left a physical imprint on the secondary. His defensive role could grow beyond what anyone expected.

SPECIAL TEAMS (4)

  • K Stephen Gostkowski
  • P Jake Bailey
  • LS Joe Cardona
  • ST Matthew Slater

Breakdown: Bailey’s leg is ridiculous. The lingering question here has turned from “Who will win the punter battle?” to “Will Bailey kick off, too?” Gostkowski has now missed kicks in consecutive preseason games, and relieving him of kickoff duties could allow him more time to focus on field goals.

TOUGHEST CUTS

  • DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
  • S Nate Ebner
  • TE Ryan Izzo
  • P Ryan Allen
  • CB Duke Dawson
  • S Obi Melifonwu
  • TE Stephen Anderson
  • OG James Ferentz